Facing surgery as a former addict, and the importance of finding the right healer

I keep getting notifications that I haven’t written here in a while… and I’ve had some messages from you over the last six months… so I should probably write a bit and let you know that all is well with my husband — because my last post here was written when we went to the emergency room last spring.

Facing surgery as a former addict

Turns out Dave’s gall bladder was very unhappy, it took many months for doctors to figure it out, treating him instead for severe acid reflux. When they did figure it out, he had surgery. In addition to removing his gall bladder, the surgeon took a liver biopsy. All tests came back negative, and he has recovered well.

If you are very familiar with prescription drug addiction, you probably wonder how post-surgical pain management went. For anyone who’s been addicted to pain pills, major injuries and surgery are minefields — even after years of continuous sobriety. Some people don’t understand that… maybe they have more self-control than I do.

I have a weakness for dark chocolate with almonds and cherries in it. I can’t just have a tiny bite and walk away knowing a whole bar is waiting in the cupboard… And chocolate’s power is nothing and utterly ridiculous to compare to a real drug.

You do what you have to do to keep from going back there again

We learned some good, hard things through this experience, and I will tell that story soon, but I think it’s important to tell you two things: Dave ended up staying overnight in the hospital (it was supposed to be outpatient surgery) so they could manage his pain and avoid sending him home with a bottle of narcotics — and it worked.

Recovery was slower, at first, without the powerful pain meds everyone else in the nation gets as a matter of course — but that was a good thing in the long run.

Prior to surgery, people told us their experiences of pain pills being too effective and jumping back into life before their bodies were ready for them to do so and doing long-term damage to their bodies (I did it myself after my last c-section almost 15 years ago and I still feel it almost every day.)

Refusing pain meds post surgery may not be a good idea, but you probably don’t need as powerful a drug — or as much as is usually prescribed (ask your doctor)

Pain pills mask your healing body’s need for rest and tend to give you a false sense of ability — which means we often do far too much post-surgery than we should.

We are grateful Dave had the option of using paid sick leave in order to recover properly without the stress and worry about how we’d get by. I know this isn’t possible for a whole lot of — maybe most — people. It wasn’t possible for us before now.

But research shows we’d have less of a pain pill problem [which has in turn fueled the heroin problem] in this country if we allowed people time to heal — if adequate paid sick leave post-surgery was mandatory for employers.

The right healer makes all the difference

Speaking of stress, the whole thing  — pain, surgery, post-surgery — was terribly stressful. We’ve seen former addicts fall hard because of one outpatient surgery — even after years of sobriety.

I’m grateful for our surgeon’s vigilance, for all the friends who prayed specifically about pain management, and for the hospital staff who took care of him (though we had to tell our life story a dozen times because so many aren’t educated on the addictive properties of Tramadol, Dave’s former drug of choice & unfortunately our hospital’s go-to for pain). It was rough.

I’ve learned how important it is to find the right people when you’re seeking healing. They are the ones who listen well, treat your concerns seriously, and don’t turn immediately to the easiest, cheapest, most common course of action. This is why decent affordable care and patient rights are critical to curbing the epidemic of drug addiction in our country, but that’s for another post. Lock ’em up, as a strategy, has failed.

It’s hard to find the right people. When I was sick myself a few years back, I went to more than a dozen doctors over a couple of years before getting the right diagnosis.

I knew I’d found the right doctor when the first question out of her mouth was “Has anyone done an ultrasound of ___?” No one had even suggested it, but after the ultrasound, we had the answer.

Dave persisted over and over with one doctor who sent him out to specialists and eventually put the puzzle pieces together for his gall bladder diagnosis.

Be ready to push back

Some of us are prone to settling.

It goes against our nature to push back, ask questions, to insist, or to press for a different way. We’d rather not go at all than try again and again until we find the right fit. Plus, it costs money. We’re forced to choose what is both inexpensive and most expedient.

A wise friend told me recently that it’s important to remember medicine is a practice. But it’s also important to find the right healer.

Last week, The New England Journal of Medicine published an article about a study done on Opioid-Prescribing Patterns of Emergency Physicians and Risk of Long-Term Use.

Get answers, or get a second opinion

Researchers discovered that even within the same hospital, doctors prescribe differently. Some immediately go to pain medication, some don’t. They learned that “the intensity of a physician’s opioid prescribing was positively associated with the probability that a patient would become a long-term opioid user over the subsequent 12 months.”

What this says to me is that it’s more important than ever to be aware of your options for pain management. Find a doctor who wants to find answers for your pain, not just treat your pain with a bottle of pills. You have options.

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Read more about the study here.

 

when medical professionals refuse to take addiction recovery seriously

A couple of weeks back, I sat in an emergency room for nine hours, working on my book, and journaling the day.

There’s a protocol for when you are over 40 and say you have chest pain. We’ve been there before and it’s always been something else, just like it was this time. It’s just what they do.

It was surreal, really. In addition to the number of times Dave was asked if he wanted something for his pain (after repeatedly saying he would not because he was recovering from prescription drug addiction — 8 years clean), we heard the ER doc give the guy next door Dave’s former drug of choice Tramadol (plus Percocet for good measure) for his pain and send him merrily on his way.

I overheard the entire transaction loud and clear and if I was not the reserved, shy person I am, I’d have given him a piece of my mind. I was reading this framed document on the wall of Dave’s room during the exchange and the irony was palpable (you don’t need to read it all, the point is that there are guidelines to provide the “safest, most appropriate pain relief for patients and to prevent the misuse of prescription pain medications”):

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I get that an ER is a crazy place. I have friends who are ER nurses, friends who’ve been the doctor on duty, family who have worked the desk. I know, too, that the prescription drug epidemic is unreal and there are multiple ideologies out there for treatment. I get that.

But when a recovering addict tells you repeatedly that what you are offering to him might as well be poison, there has to be a way to make sure you don’t hand him a death sentence in a tiny paper cup.

Dave and I discussed for hours afterward what could be done to prevent a recovering addict from being barraged over nine hours with, “I can give you something for your pain” as though they were being tested by Satan in the wilderness. Our answer was, there’s a whiteboard in the room, there’s a chart outside the room: WRITE IT DOWN.

It’s as deadly serious as any allergy or any other underlying condition and for the love of decent medical care, something has to be done to stop the madness.

And believe me, this was NOT the first time we’ve had this experience. When you look like a nice enough person, very few people take “I’m a recovering prescription drug addict” seriously. I have watched this happen over, and over, and over.

Today’s news hits the importance of this message out of the park. So much so, that it prompted Dave to write on Facebook about his recent experience:

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Heartbreaking and important that you read this.

The Young Woman Whose Addiction Story Touched Obama’s Heart Has Died
As someone in recovery (8+ years clean), this story hits far too close to home. I recently had some health issues that required a trip to the ER. I told everyone at the start that I was in recovery for pain pill addiction and could not have narcotics or pain medication.

I told the triage team, the primary nurse, the tech in the ER and the techs in the nuclear medicine area, and the ER doctor. I told everyone. An in spite of this, I was asked if I needed “something for the pain” on SIX DIFFERENT OCCASIONS. [actually, it was seven]

I know they were attempting to be compassionate and helpful, but it could have been tragic.
Thank goodness I had Deborah Beddoe sitting with me to help keep me accountable, as well as tools from my recovery work to keep me from saying, “yes”. It is an incredible temptation at the best of times and more difficult when vulnerable.

Let’s support any law, best practice or system that helps avoid this and helps someone in recovery who might be just barely hanging on. A color coded card on the door. A bold note in the chart. A software solution. Or maybe just continuing to take recovery seriously.
I’m still clean, alive and thankful for every day. I want that for everyone who struggles with addiction and I believe we have an opportunity to help those who have chosen to address their issue by refusing to add unnecessary temptation.

— Dave Beddoe

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By the way, the ER doc never did quite figure out what was wrong with Dave.  Turns out he may have had some sort of virus…jury is still out on that one.

But I can’t forget the last thing the doc said to him when he released Dave, “You know, the way I’d treat this is to give you something for the pain, but…”

Number 7. Giving him one last chance to say please.

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Friends, please share this message. And if you want to wander over to Facebook and follow Enduring and After or Jackson’s Light (written by a woman in our community who lost her teenage son to a prescription drug and is shouting this message from the rooftops) for news updates you can read share about the prescription drug addiction epidemic, please do.

 

dear friend who is up late, online, and searching for answers

I was never a chat room sort of gal — which is a shame because if I had been, I might’ve found someone to talk to late at night when the quiet house amplified the voices in my head. Instead, I searched endlessly for answers.

I still search, but with less desperation and mainly when I’m worried about my own health issues. I nearly always regret those sorts of searches…not super helpful for inducing sleep…my mind always goes to the worst and the internet freely offers it.

Anyway, I ask a lot of questions in real life now — about things I never would have years ago:

Is this normal?

What would you do?

How can I know for sure?

What if he doesn’t?

What if it’s true?

The answers aren’t always reassuring, but they’re offered by people who know me and care. People don’t always have the right answer either. But I care less now about getting the exact right answer than I do about having someone who will listen to my fears and not dismiss them as silly or faithless.

One real life – around the corner – in your kitchen – on the phone – friend is worth more than a thousand far away. That’s a proverb of sorts.

Trouble is, she’s not always awake when you are. And sometimes, there are things you don’t even dare to ask her…

Who did we ask before Google? Oh yeah, Jeeves…but who before that? I know my answer: Nobody. I kept the hardest questions to myself and they weighed heavy on my heart and mind and kept me awake for hours into the night.

I remember the first time I searched for Tramadol forums online. My first search, more than a decade ago, yielded sellers with ridiculous pages packed with search words. You had to hunt for a page that offered actual help and conversation — maybe you’ve experienced that, too. What I found eventually were conversations that held the beginnings of warnings about the power of this prescription drug. Even people breaking free from heroin recounted near-death experiences of withdrawal from Tramadol. Page after page was filled with harrowing stories of this new drug. I found nothing at all to encourage me.

There’s exponentially more information online now, and experts to chat with at all hours…but I think, more than anything, we just want to know we’re not alone: Someone like me has been through what I’m going through and she survived.

I wonder, dear friend who is up late, online, and searching for answers if that’s what you want, too? Maybe underneath the impulse to click and scroll for facts and knowledge, what you really want to know is: is it going to be okay?

And you know, just like I do, nobody has that answer. Not really. But you click, and scroll, and read and repeat til you are exhausted enough to finally sleep.

* * * * *

Two weeks ago, I was writing the story of our life together — Dave’s and mine — going back a long way. It was almost our 24th anniversary and that, combined with a revived passion to get the whole story down on paper made me feel especially reflective. Our story spans decades now: years of migraine headaches, years of addiction, years of recovery…years and years of feeling alone in suffering and in shame.

Right now, maybe all your deepest questions are unanswered — unspoken. Maybe you only see despair, discouragement, darkness.

I think so many times it’s only in the looking back that you really see.

We sang a song at church the other day, and it hit me all at once and nearly knocked me down. I got home and opened my notebook and across the page where I’d meticulously graphed the details of our history together — all the unspoken troubles behind the smiling faces in a gazillion photographs from 24 years– I wrote this line:

Never once did we ever walk alone.

Oh friend, I know that’s not the answer you came looking for, but it’s probably the most true and honest answer I can give. Whatever it is, however lonely it feels, you aren’t walking by yourself. Not really. Not ever.

Whether it’s worry rendering you sleepless, or fear, or anger, or hurt, or grief, or confusion — whatever it is, whatever you are suffering, God is with you even when it doesn’t feel like He’s answering your questions.

My prayer for you tonight is rest. And peace that passes understanding. Someday, you will look down from a mountain, not up from this valley, but you need strength for the journey. He provides for you, even in your sleep. *

Here’s a song for you — a lullaby — to remind you: you’re not alone.

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 *Psalm 127:2 It is vain for you to rise up early, to retire late, to eat the bread of painful labors;
For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep.

waking from the anesthesia of noise

I find I can’t filter noise like I used to.

When my kids were small, I learned to tune it out. So much so, that they still sometimes have to get in my face to be sure I’m listening. But that has less to do with hearing and more to do with attention. I know. I just have a lot of thoughts…

I also used to play music, listen to talk radio, have TV on in the background while they napped and I worked. But now, when I want to think, or read, or write, or pray…I need silence. So much so, that I can’t even pray in my head and heart when there’s music in church…

Someday, I know the silence of my house will make me sad. But right now, while my house is full, in the late night stillness, I feel a blessed peace. Nobody needs me right now. I can be alone with my thoughts and sort them.

You’d think that someone who enjoys the quiet so much would be good at something like meditation. But that’s not true of me. I have a noisy, cluttered brain.

Silence is a discipline.

I’ve been attempting to practice this discipline. Not in the quiet of night, but when I wake up in the morning.

It’s more difficult than it sounds. Even for someone who loves quiet.

First, you have to get free of noise and distractions: no electronic devices, no music, no muted TV. That’s not easy in a culture where we’ve been putting on headphones to shut out the world since forever.

We equate being alone with being silent, but it’s not the same thing.

And there are plenty of noise-free distractions.  If I pray the Lord’s prayer and attempt to be still for just 15 minutes in total silence, the first 14 are often spent shooing away the to-do list and all the ideas that suddenly seem so urgent.

Sometimes I write those things down and reset the timer. Because honestly, there’s so much “noise” in my life — email, Facebook, texts — the important thing could get lost again for ever.

But the point of this sort of silence is not to hear my own mind, but to hear a still, small voice that has been drowned out through constant listening. Our ears and minds are full of now, full of what makes us comfortable, what we enjoy.

Silence, real silence before God, is uncomfortable.

In silence, we come face to face with all we’ve tried to ignore. All the times we’ve forced our will not God’s, the debtors we can’t seem to forgive, the temptations that haunt us.

If my simple prayer is to awaken to God’s presence in my life, I need to know His voice. To hear it apart from the noise, from the commentators, from the opinions and activities of my friends.

God, what do you want me to see, to hear, not notice, to forgive, to ask?

What guilt have I not unconfessed? What shame still lingers?

What worries, regrets, jealousies and desires are tucked away in my heart and mind?

Noise, even the noise of our own thoughts and dreams, is an anesthesia. And when it wears off, it can be ugly. All six times I’ve gone under anesthesia for surgery, I’ve panicked coming out.

Shutting off all the noise external and internal to be awakened to my hidden faults, to buried wounds, feels much the same — until I confess them and let God heal me.

I wish I could say I do this every day, but every day that I do, I feel spiritually awake. Oh, hardly miss a day of reading Scripture and books, but this sort of stepping away from the noise into silence before God? I can’t believe all the distractions I have to fight.

Tonight, I will set my phone out of reach, so I’m not tempted to scroll, put a note card on my nightstand and remember to practice just 15 minutes of silence and allow God to have the first words of my day.